If you have ever experienced a mental health condition, have you ever felt like your loved ones were trying to give you advice on how to feel better? If it were that easy to just feel better by snapping your fingers then you probably would have done that by now. The best advise someone else could give you is to seek out a professional therapist if they notice that something is off and you are exhibiting symptoms of a mental health condition.
You might then meet with a therapist who diagnoses you with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD, etc. These diagnoses are conditions in which people can experience and suffer from. If someone has never experienced a mental health condition then it would be hard for them to understand exactly how it feels. Once you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, it may feel like a relief for you. You finally understand what is going on and you can even put a name to it. It is also something that many, many others experience. You are not alone. And it is treatable! Usually mental health conditions are treated with therapy and/or medication. Some mental health conditions are even classified as episodes in which they may last 6 months and then you are able to alleviate the symptoms.
A common thing that clients ask me are how they can describe their mental health condition to a loved one so that they understand.
Someone who suffers from having depression may be labeled as lazy, quiet, or unmotivated by friends, family members, a boss, teachers etc. When in reality, this person is suffering from a mental health disorder which can include symptoms such as lack of energy, withdrawing from others, lack of interest in activities, feeling down, lack of appetite, feelings of worthlessness, and so on. There is a clear clinical difference between feeling lazy and suffering from depression. These symptoms are usually impacting the person in a huge way such as doing poorly at school or their job. It is something that a person who has depression can understand, but they find it hard to describe it to others who want to see them shake it off.
One way I like to describe any mental health condition to others is with an analogy to any medical condition. Let's take Diabetes for example. If someone has Diabetes, they experience a certain amount of symptoms before they are diagnosed with the condition. Once diagnosed with diabetes, they will then usually need to take medications, insulin, and watch their sugar levels daily. Let's say someone developed diabetes because it was in their genetics- their mother and father both have diabetes and it runs in their family. Would you judge this person for getting diabetes? Would you tell this person, "Just toughen up, go outside for a walk, your diabetes will go away on its own if you try to be happier"? Probably not. If someone with diabetes does not follow the treatment that is proven to work then they will most likely have major problems including amputations and even death.
Now let's relate diabetes to a mental health diagnosis such as depression. Just because you cannot see depression, does not mean it is not as real and as serious as a medical condition like diabetes. If someone has severe, ongoing depression including suicidal thoughts and behaviors then that person will most likely need ongoing therapy and medication to manage the severe depression. If this person does not attend the prescribed treatment then they are in just as serious jeopardy of becoming more sick and may even lead to death.
There are symptoms, studies, and assessments that mental health professionals use to diagnose someone. The stigma against mental health has gone down in recent years since it has been talked about a lot more in media and pop culture such as TV shows and movies. But we still have a long way to explaining the seriousness that a mental illness can cause on someone. I can bet that if you are reading this, you know of someone who has a mental health condition, if not yourself.
If you have never experienced a mental health condition yourself, it would still be great for you to read up on some mental health conditions and what the signs and symptoms are. You never know who you will come across, or who is already in your life, who needs help and is not seeing the symptoms themselves. And if there is someone in your life who struggles with a mental health condition, I ask that you be open to listening to how it impacts them. Being open to this can help you see the seriousness of a condition. The fact that you're listening to this person and showing you care is really the best gift you can give them. Everyone needs some support in their life and you can help them feel they're not alone in this.
If you are having a hard time explaining your mental health diagnosis with a loved one then you may want to send on this blog post and/or send them some research behind the condition you experience. If you are seeing a therapist already, you can also ask them to explain it to your loved one if you think that will be most helpful.
Hopefully in the near future, we will all see mental health conditions as seriously as medical conditions.
Courtney Glashow, LCSW
is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in teen and young adult counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth therapy sessions as well.